In presidential politics, unlike elsewhere, New York has always been an also-ran.
The state never votes early enough to factor into a vicious primary. It’s a lock for the Democrats in a general election, shunned by candidates for Ohio and Florida, where the endangered species known as the swing voter residents. Candidates, when not mocking New York’s values, still fly in plenty to raise cash and give the occasional speech, but Di Fara Pizza will never host as many grip-and-grins as Pizza Ranch. That’s just not how these cycles work.
But at least one prominent Republican believes the unique nature of this primary will mean a rare star turn for New York in the primary process. Given the sheer number of potent candidates vying for the nomination and the possibility, though remote, of a brokered convention, the Empire State and its 95 delegates may suddenly look very enticing come April 19, the date New Yorkers head to the polls.
“Absolutely we’re going to play a role. We’ll be counting on that,” Ed Cox, the chairman of the New York State Republican Party, told the Observer. “From March 15 to April 19, a 5 week period, the only other primaries are Wisconsin, Utah and Arizona. For five weeks, we’re the big state with 95 votes.”
“It’s completely unprecedented the way this primary is going,” he added. “It’s why we have such a tremendous opportunity.”
As one of the largest states in America, New York boasts a sizable number of delegates, trailing only Florida’s 99, Texas’ 155 and California’s 172. It’s a proportional state, not winner-take-all, so there will be incentive for multiple candidates to scrounge for delegates. (1,237 of 2,475 delegates are needed to clinch the nomination.)
Florida and Texas vote before New York but California is far back in June. Since a vast swath of southern states, in addition to the first four early voting states, all come before New York, there’s always the real chance the nomination will be wrapped up by the time New York gets to vote.
In 2012, Mitt Romney was clearly the nominee by the time New York Republicans went to the polls. Ditto John McCain in 2008. Mr. Cox, as well as other longtime observers, said the one time New York was almost relevant in recent decades was the 2000 primary, when George W. Bush handily defeated Mr. McCain, the Arizona senator.
New York was one of 13 states to vote on March 7, 2000, when Mr. McCain still had an outside shot of derailing Mr. Bush. Both men went to New York to bitterly campaign. Gov. George Pataki, a Bush supporter, had tried to keep Mr. McCain off the ballot, and a furious Mr. McCain had in turn labeled the New York governor “Comrade Pataki.”
Ultimately, appearing on the ballot didn’t mean much for Mr. McCain’s campaign. He was swamped across the country on March 7.
For those New York Republicans who want their vote to matter 16 years later, there’s still plenty of reason to hope. Donald Trump, the celebrity billionaire and New York native, Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas and Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida are all expected to battle deep into the primary. Gov. John Kasich of Ohio, Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush could be in the race for the long haul if one of them wins New Hampshire.
Any scenario where no Republicans wins a decisive number of states before April could mean the rare sight of GOP candidates personally asking New Yorkers for their votes. Luckily for them, there’s no time-consuming process of gathering signatures anymore. Any “nationally recognized serious candidate” can appear on the ballot, said Jessica Proud, a spokeswoman for Mr. Cox.
Few Republicans have invested in New York. Mr. Trump has a surrogate in fellow billionaire Carl Paladino, who ran for governor in 2010. Former Sen. Al D’Amato, now a top lobbyist, backed Mr. Kasich last summer, but declined to talk about the race with the Observer and is sitting on his hands so far, according to GOP insiders. Carly Fiorina, the former Hewlett-Packard executive, has two state co-chairs, former Congresswoman Nan Hayworth and Assemblyman Kieran Lalor, both of the Hudson Valley.
The candidate with the largest presence in the Empire State is Mr. Rubio, an establishment favorite. Mr. D’Amato recently spoke highly of Mr. Rubio and could switch his backing if Mr. Kasich drops out, observers say.
Mr. Rubio has a New York chair, Staten Island Assemblywoman Nicole Malliotakis, and is racking up endorsements from GOP elected officials and party activists in the state. Mr. Rubio is more conservative on big-ticket issues than past Republicans who have won the state, but given the party’s rightward shift, Mr. Rubio’s veneer of moderation could be enough to woo New York’s GOP voters.
“Marco right now has the most support from elected officials in the state of New York,” Ms. Malliotakis said. “He’s the only one who has an infrastructure in terms of garnering support from various parts of the state.”
Mr. Rubio has held public events in New York City at a more frequent clip than his rivals, delivering two foreign policy speeches and fielding questions from the city’s tech sector. Mr. Rubio, unlike Mr. Cruz, is looking to win delegates from larger, more moderate states as a way to head off what some expect to be the Texas senator’s dominance in the South.
No matter the outcome, Mr. Cox, who is steadfastly neutral, is a happy man.
“We love competition here in New York State,” he said. “We need to build a party in this very blue state.”